Matrix Blog

Suburban, Urban, Commuting

Is Gentrification a Four Letter Word?

March 5, 2014 | 11:00 am | |


Back in mid 1980’s the front door of a new condo conversion at One Tompkins Square Park was spray painted with words “Die Yuppie Scum” and it became the battle cry for protests against gentrification of the East Village. With the eastward push of new residential development in the 1980s from the West and Central Village, residents and local businesses worried about being priced out and losing the intangibles that made the neighborhood unique – and that they would disappear along with it.

I remember appraising apartments to the east of Tompkins Square Park, seeing squatters inhabit derelict buildings, observing a burned out school bus on blocks in front of a newly converted walk-up and the self-described “Anarchists” in the park. All that is gone.

Recent discussions about gentrification have been more visible of late – and so have the discussions of the benefits of gentrification.

Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as:

the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

Philadelphia is one of the first cities to tackle the issue in an attempt to keep the long time residents there and in doing so, helping to minimize the loss of the character of the neighborhood. It is fascinating and encouraging to see city governments be proactive on the issue since it costs money in the short term.

The initiatives, planned or underway in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh and other cities, are centered on reducing or freezing property taxes for such homeowners in an effort to promote neighborhood stability, preserve character and provide a dividend of sorts to those who have stayed through years of high crime, population loss and declining property values, officials say.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Price per Square Inch for Pizza, Slices for Real Estate Market

March 3, 2014 | 5:58 pm |


Now that the Oscars are behind us and the “next big snowstorm” just missed NYC, I thought I would finally talk about pizza. But because of why you are here – I’ll make price per inch and price per square foot interchangeable.

One of my favorite podcasts, NPR Planet Money had a great segment called “74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza

The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple: A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius. So, for example, a 16-inch pizza is actually four times as big as an 8-inch pizza. And when you look at thousands of pizza prices from around the U.S., you see that you almost always get a much, much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza.

Explanation of above math: 200.1 inches of pizza surface versus 50.2 inches of pizza surface (pi*r squared=surface area of a circle) And here’s an easy way to calculate the volume of a pizza if you can’t help get enough pizza geometry.


Here’s the (pizza) logic
The premise of the piece is that it is much cheaper to buy a large pie than a small pie on a price per inch basis. Pricing for a large pie doesn’t expand as much as the surface area does so the price per inch drops precipitously. In the example above, the 16″ pizza wouldn’t be priced 4x as much as the 8″ pizza – probably more like 2x. Apparently pizza makers don’t take geometry seriously.

Buy the large and throw the unused portion in the fridge. Perhaps that is why people buy homes somewhat larger than what they actually need – they will grow into it.

In suburban real estate, after a certain point, larger the home is, generally the lower the price per square foot. There is a point of diminishing return on excess square footage. The total dollar price is higher, obviously, but the cost of additional space is usually less on a per square foot basis. Hence the pizza analogy applies.

Queen of Versailles, Florida
A well known example of diminishing return is the home featured in the documentary, Queen of Versailles. The 90,000 square foot home is so oversized for the Windmere, South Florida housing market that the vast majority of the living area likely has no value as a single family – other than to the current owners, of course.

In a market with one of the highest per capita population density for a US city, there is a premium for larger contiguous space so perhaps that is why we have so many pizza joints. Here is an price per square foot table by apartment size – you can see how ppsf expands with apartment size consistently over the decade (actually it has shown this pattern for the past 25 years). It’s expensive to get more living area in Manhattan.


Tags: , ,

New Yorker Cover’s “Crossroads” (aka Urban v. Suburban)

September 10, 2013 | 12:05 pm |

[Click to see cover article]


[This Place Matters] National Trust for Historic Preservation

August 25, 2009 | 11:19 am |

National Trust for Historic Preservation does a lot of good work slowing the disappearance of US landmarks.

One might incorrectly assume their job might be a tad easier (thereby diminishing the urgency of their cause) without the massive quantity of essentially free mortgage money that was available for some crazy stupid development during the recent credit boom. The tear it down mantra seems a bit dated now.

The Trust created a Flickr photo pool for their new campaign.

No biggie but it’s fun to peruse. Of course, remember who is writing the blog and how boring he is. After being out of the loop for vacation, I feel the need to clear my desk so forgive the larger than usual volume of posts coming at you this week.

[New Urbanism Watch] A Streetcar Named De-Leverage

May 7, 2009 | 12:52 am | |

One of my favorite visuals when I visit San Francisco are the trolleys and street cars. When I rode a street car for the first time a few years ago, I didn’t realize that they were largely retired cars purchased from eastern cities like Newark and Philadelphia.

Here’s a cool map from The Infrastructurist (hat tip to The Architect’s Newspaper Blog) outlining where some of the activity is. There’s a version on the infrastructurist site

There seems to be a bit of a renaissance toward light rail service in many cities given their reasonable economics and limited pollution among other advantages (such as fun). This has likely been a result of the swing towards urban residential development, especially in former commercial districts and class b and c office markets. The credit boom fueled demand for residential housing in downtown markets and more need for public transportation.

With the recession, credit crunch and falling tax collections being experienced in many urban municipalities, I wonder if the opportunity for light rail expansion is already past. Transportation is always a key consideration in urban residential housing market.

Man, I love trains.

[Weedless Green] Grass Gets You Higher (Property Values)

September 5, 2008 | 12:11 am |

A study by Michigan State University, one of the best schools on the planet (ok, it’s my alma mater), found that:

Good landscaping can increase your home’s value by 5% to 11%

“Most lawns should be cut between 2 1/2 and three inches high,” says John Stier, professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin’s turfgrass extension program and playing-field consultant for stadiums in the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

It’s essentially like decorating the interior of a house. Sellers should present a home in a neutral manner so the buyer can envision moving in.

The marketability may be enhanced because the property has an edge over competing listings. This may translate into shorter marketing times, a higher price or both.

Crains New York Business Economic Spotlight Chart – April 2007

April 23, 2007 | 12:01 am | | Charts |

Since 2003 I have provided a chart that appears once a month in the Economic Spotlight section of Crain’s New York Business magazine. Here is this month’s chart appearing in the current issue of Crain’s New York Business.

Source: Crain’s New York Business

Go here for a complete archive of all my Crains’s New York Economic Spotlight charts. They are organized by year.

As an added bonus (to me, actually, ’cause I am in it), there is an interesting article in Crain’s on how NYC currently has the edge over the outlying suburbs.


Outstanding On Our Soapbox This Week: Martha of Katonah

February 12, 2007 | 10:40 am |

On our other blog, Soapbox, in the post called Martha of Katonah, a The Hall Monitor column by Todd Huttunen, brings back memories of the rock band, The Knack, singing Martha Stewart’s version of “My Sharona Katonah, about a sleepy town in Westchester County, New York.

….sort of.


Cul-de-sac: More Than A Dead End

June 8, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

In Amir Efrati’s The Suburbs Under Siege [WSJ] or here homeowners love their cul-de-sacs while city planners find them to be a nightmare for traffic.

I lived on a classic cul-de-sac when I was a kid in the 1960’s when they were all the rage in new suburban tract housing. Our neighborhood was full of them. All the houses faced the street and there were no windows on the side of the house (that I remember), providing a sense of privacy (or isolation, depending on your perspective). Of course I remember losing control of my bike on the downhill leading into the cul-de-sac and splitting the bottom of a split rail fence (as well as my knee).

The term cul-de-sac is French for bottom of the bag. Their objective was to limit traffic through residential neighborhoods thereby promoting quiet and enhancing safety for children. Today developers charge a premium for properties located on them for this reason and they remain popular. Their existence in a subdivision allows more houses to be squeezed into the land parcel.

But the New Urbanism movement says they promote driving by separating streets, making it impractical to walk, isolating neighbors from each other and encouraging crime because of limited pass-through visibility.

Here’s an interesting NPR segment released yesterday called Cul-de-Sacs: Suburban Dream or Dead End? [NPR]

Their safety has been a big source of comfort for many buyers.

“The actual research about injuries and deaths to small children under five is that the main cause of death is being backed over, not being driven over forward,” he says. “And it would be expected that the main people doing the backing over would in fact be family members, usually the parents.”

Armed with such arguments, critics of the cul-de-sac have won some victories in recent years. In cities such as Charlotte, N.C., Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, construction of cul-de-sac-based suburbs has basically been banned. In other places, cul-de-sac communities have been retrofitted with cross streets.

They still remain popular with homebuyers and I suspect they are so engrained into our suburban culture that they will remain a staple of design for generations to come.

40 Million Acres Of Grass Is Always American Green

June 5, 2006 | 12:05 am |

I have never done this, but I made the review of a book the topic of a post. The book is American Green and the review was called America’s Obsession With That Green Patch In The Yard [CS Monitor] via Planetizen, whiched hooked me and I wanted to share it.

An environmental historian ponders the cultural significance of the lawn in suburban America.

With the explosive growth of suburbs and sprawl and Americans obsession with housing and its fever pitch of the recent housing boom, I have always wondered why a green lawn was so important to many (self-included). Its not about the evils of fertilizers and chemicals, but more about the social dynamic. The review is quite thorough and a good read.

…When read through this cultural lens, lawns become an instrument of planned homogeneity. As Americans sought to fit in with one another during the cold war, writes Steinberg, “…what better way to conform than to make your front yard look precisely like Mr. Smith’s next door?”

…In his story of the lawn, the social and ecological factors often worked in coordination. Perfection became a commodity of post-World War II prefabricated housing such as Levittown, N. Y., in the late 1940s. Mowing became a priority of the bylaws of such communities.”

Source: NYT

Its not just a suburban phenomenon:

Even in this weekend’s NYT article by Tracie Rozhon Opening Up a Duplex, Letting the Sunshine In, grass seemed to be an important design element in the reconfiguration of a duplex apartment.

In the new design, the terrace becomes the platform for yet another staircase, which leads to — guess what? — a third-level terrace built on top of what had been a second-floor bedroom. This third level is planted entirely in grass, a party oasis that has a lovely view of a nearby church.

Minds In The Gutter, But My House Needs A Sewer

March 22, 2006 | 12:01 am |

One of the most important municipal considerations of new housing development is the adequacy of the surrounding infrastructure, specifically sewers. The rapid pace of housing development over the past several years has taxed the ability of municipalities to handle the extra volume (er..sorry). In rural areas, property owners are reluctant to bear the cost of installing new sewers, but many of the new units that come on line are higher in density, like condos, PUD’s and multifamily properties. Here’s a collection of recent news articles to illustrate the point.

Photo archives

Thomas Jefferson: The Founding Father Of Sprawl?

February 23, 2006 | 12:26 am |

In this Planetizen post the author Leonardo Vazquez postulates:

He told James Madison: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get plied upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

As a writer, philosopher and leader, Jefferson was able to hard-wire an anti-urban bias into the culture of the United States. Consider the U.S. Constitution. What power does it give to cities and towns? None, nada, zip. In fact, the Constitution doesn’t even mention cities and towns. It does give a lot of power to states. And states get more power — through representatives — by increasing their population.

It’s a formula for urban sprawl and weak cities. States need to grow to get more representatives and more political power. State politicians could try getting more people into urban areas by encouraging compact development. But that would risk giving more electoral power to cities, which Jefferson and his friends and followers (the “Jeffersonians”) thought were corrupt. The result? Encourage people to scatter on large plots of land — of course after removing the Native Americans who happened to be living there at the time.

Its a good article. We have had recent posts on sprawl and new urbanism (bringing town centers to suburban areas). Here’s a good resource that covers sprawl [National Geographic].

Sprawled In The Suburbs, There Is Hope For The New-Urbanist [Matrix]
Creative Brain Drain Weakens Long Term Urban Revitalization [Matrix]
Development Is Goin’ Down…town [Matrix]


Get Weekly Insights and Research

Housing Notes by Jonathan Miller

Receive Jonathan Miller's 'Housing Notes' and get regular market insights, the market report series for Douglas Elliman Real Estate as well as interviews, columns, blog posts and other content.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter

#Housing analyst, #realestate, #appraiser, podcaster/blogger, non-economist, Miller Samuel CEO, family man, maker of snow and lobster fisherman (order varies)
NYC CT Hamptons DC Miami LA Aspen
Joined October 2007